BOSTON - The Bruins continue their pre-Christmas homestand on Thursday night when they welcome the New York Islanders to TD Garden for a matchup between the second- and third-ranked teams in the Eastern Conference. With both squads coming off of losses, the Bruins expect there to be plenty of urgency from every player on the ice.
"Overall, I think the message of today was just primarily focused on our game," said Brandon Carlo. "Once we do that, we can handle any team in this league. We obviously understand that they have some bigger bodies on that side of the ice. They definitely will play a physical style. We've never been a team to back down from that. Overall, I just think we need to, internally, do the right things for us and things should happen and go well from there."
Despite losses in six of their last seven games, the Black & Gold believe their game is headed in the right direction after better efforts in Washington, Tampa, Florida, and during Tuesday night's overtime loss to Los Angeles.
"The way that it goes in this league, there's times where you can play your best game and lose that night," said Carlo. "That's just the way that it is, I've learned over the last couple years. Even if you're playing the team at the bottom of the standings, they can come out and play a strong game or you're just not getting the right puck luck or whatnot. We just need to continue along the right path but keep it positive and I think everyone has been doing that so far."
Video: Locker Room Raw: Brandon Carlo
Here's everything else you need to know for Bruins-Islanders (7 p.m. ET on NESN, NBCSN, and 98.5 The Sports Hub):
Clifton Makes Return
After sitting out six of the last seven games as a healthy scratch, Connor Clifton will be in the lineup against the Islanders. Coach Bruce Cassidy said he was planning on getting the 24-year-old back into game action at some point this week, but an illness to John Moore opened up an opportunity on Thursday night.
"John started getting ill last night, so keep him away from the room and hopefully he's ready [on Friday] and we'll worry about the next game," said Cassidy. "We were getting close anyway…Cliffy hopefully goes in and gives us some solid minutes and gets back to the way he can play."
Video: Press Room: Bruce Cassidy
Charlie Coyle will return to his familiar third-line center position on Thursday night after spending two games as David Krejci's right wing. The move also sets in motion a number of other tweaks to the forward group, among them Chris Wagner shifting from fourth-line center to third-line right wing and Danton Heinen moving up to Krejci's right side.
Sean Kuraly will also be back in his normal fourth-line center role between Joakim Nordstrom and David Backes.
"We weren't happy with some of our middle of the lineup scoring so we shook it up a bit [at the end of the road trip]," said Cassidy. "They had a good game in Florida, Krejci and [Jake] DeBrusk. Charlie was part of that, obviously. Who knows what went into it, how much that affected them? They're good players, Krejci and DeBrusk, they're gonna play well eventually.
"It would be ideal if that line pushes Bergy's line on a regular basis. Internal competition always makes us better…we want Charlie to be a third-line center and drive a line, just like Krejci and DeBrusk - no matter who's on their right wing - we want them playing to their capabilities. That's what makes us good."
In other lineup news, Brad Marchand is good to go after missing Thursday's practice for a maintenance day. Tuukka Rask will get the start in goal for the second straight game.
Video: Locker Room Raw: Charlie Coyle
The Islanders sit fifth in the league standings with 46 points (22-8-2) and are coming off of an 8-3 setback to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night. New York is a stout defensive team, ranking fourth in the NHL in goals against (2.50 per game), just behind the third-ranked Bruins (2.46).
Much of the credit for their strong work in the defensive end goes to their goaltending tandem of Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov. The two have rotated through every other game thus far, making the Isles the first team since the Sharks in 2006-07 to have a straight goalie rotation though the first 32 games of a season, per Islanders.com.
Varlamov ranks ninth in the NHL with a 2.37 goals against average and Greiss is 11th at 2.39. Meanwhile, Greiss is 10th in save percentage .924 and Varlamov is 12th at .923.
Offensively, the Islanders are paced by third-year pro Mathew Barzal, who leads the team in points (27) and goals (13). Brock Nelson isn't far behind with 26 points and 12 goals in 32 games.
"They've been pretty good all year," said Charlie Coyle. "They have one of the best records in the league. I think they had maybe a fluky one last game, so they're trying to get back on track and prove themselves like they have been all season. We'll expect their best. We want to have our good start like we've kind of been building on and carry our game throughout against a good team.
"We usually get up for these games. It's not too hard to do that. To play the right way from puck drop, that's going to go in our favor. That's probably the best way of going about it."
Video: Locker Room Raw: Chris Wagner
Thursday's Projected Lineup
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Danton Heinen
Anders Bjork - Charlie Coyle - Chris Wagner
Joakim Nordstrom - Sean Kuraly - David Backes
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Connor Clifton
Scratches: Par Lindholm, John Moore, and Brett Ritchie